We have made it to the end! If you would like the previous three iterations you can bump this link right here. We all know the final three guys on the list via process of elimination and because it was fairly obvious from the start who at least two of them would be, so let's skip the fancy intros:
3. Cheick Diallo, freshman forward
Diallo's official name at this point has been changed to Cheick Diallo If He Is Eligible, but if in fact he is then Kansas has a monster down low. The MVP of the McDonald's All American game measured just 6-9 in shoes at the Nike Hoops Summit, but concerns about his size can be assuaged a bit by his 7-4 wingspan and 9-1 standing reach.
Diallo doesn't appear to be the most polished guy out there, but the fact that he has only been playing basketball for a few years should hopefully help him come along in leaps and bounds (though it wouldn't be fair to expect him to be the next Joel Embiid). Diallo will be another big man who can run the floor well, which should help Kansas get out into transition where their offense has been best the last few years. Diallo also will be a big help rebounding, as the Jayhawks really struggled in that area last season.
His biggest impact, though, may be on the #2 guy on this list. Perry Ellis struggled at times against big men down low, as he ended up shooting just under 47 percent on twos for the season. If Diallo can force the opponents' biggest interior defender on him, then Ellis should feast on smaller post players and get rewarded with a ton of easy buckets.
2. Perry Ellis, senior forward
I'm not sure what there is to say about Ellis at this point. He reportedly added some perimeter skills to his game this summer, and he already shot 39 percent from three last season, albeit on just 46 attempts. I would like to see Perry probably double his 3-point output, and even if he drops to around 33 percent he still will have enough value in that plus the fact that he will draw the defense out to make it worthwhile.
Ellis is also the rare player I am ok with when he takes a mid range jumper. It's obvious why mid range jumpers are bad, but to illustrate: last season, via hoop-math, the worst team in the country at the rim and the best team in the country at mid range jumpers shot the exact same percentage on those respective shots. Kansas had some frustrating games at the rim, and got a lot of its shots blocked, but the Jayhawks still shot 20 percent higher at the rim than at mid range jumpers, so quit taking mid range jumpers. I am sure an F bomb will get removed by editing here.
While Ellis didn't shoot particularly well on those jumpers (35 percent), he shot well enough to make the defense respect him. Because Ellis handles the ball fairly well and moves well for a guy his size, forcing defenses to respect that shot will either force a bigger guy to get out on him and Ellis can drive by him, or it will force teams to put a smaller guy on him, and Ellis can then take advantage of him in the post. I'd like to see Ellis get better at passing (just a 9.9 percent assist rate) but he never turns it over, is efficient, and gets to the line exceptionally well.
Lastly, about his defense. Ellis's reputation is that he is a poor defender and while I don't think he will be on the all defensive team, his play has outpaced his reputation by quite a bit. He won't block a lot of shots, but he stands guys up in the post well and has gotten a lot better on the perimeter. You probably don't want him on an opponents' best player, but he's not a guy teams can go take advantage of either.
1. Frank Mason, junior guard
The worst prediction I have ever made was putting Frank Mason 8th on this list last year. I thought he wasn't as good as Conner Frankamp. I thought he would be nothing more than an energy guy for four years.
I was wrong.
Frank Mason is the best player on the Kansas Jayhawks, has a chance to be the best player in the Big 12, and has a chance to be one of the best players in the entire country. I should have seen it coming, given how close his style of play was to Tyshawn Taylor earlier in his career, and I saw Tyshawn's ascent coming a mile away. I wrongly thought Mason's size would limit him, and it sort of does limit his ceiling a bit, but mostly it keeps him on campus for two more years when if he were 6-3 instead of 5-11 (well, listed at 5-11 but if he's taller than 5-9 then I am a 7-footer) he would be on an NBA roster right now.
Like Ellis, I've covered most of what there is to cover about Mason, but if there is one thing I want out of Bill Self, it's to limit Mason's minutes earlier in the season, and in games against the lower rung teams in the conference. His style of play leads to a greater possibility of injury, and just as importantly leads to him getting worn down. You could see it in the loss to Wichita State; Mason could generally get to where he wanted to on the floor, but didn't have the explosion to score in traffic or get those easy looks at the rim. He played well defensively but a fresher Mason, one who didn't have to play the 4th most minutes in the Big 12, would have had a much better game in that round of 32 loss.
Kansas can win a title if Cheick Diallo doesn't get cleared. It can probably still win one if Perry Ellis is hurt in the NCAA tournament like he was last season. But if Frank Mason isn't 100%, you can forget about it.